Severe food allergies rise dramatically over past decade

by Monica Watrous
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NEW YORK — The incidence of severe allergic reactions to food has increased at a dramatic rate, rising 377% from 2007 to 2016, according to a study of private insurance claims conducted by FAIR Health.

FAIR Health is a nonprofit organization that oversees the nation’s largest collection of health care claims data, including more than 23 billion billed medical and dental claims from more than 150 million privately insured individuals. In a recent analysis, FAIR Health found that peanuts were the most commonly identified food causing anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, accounting for 26% of such claims between 2007 and 2016. Tree nuts and seeds were cited for 18% of anaphylactic food reactions, followed by eggs at 7%, crustaceans at 6%, milk products at 5%, fruits and vegetables at 2%, fish at 2% and food additives at 1%. A third of diagnoses were coded as “other specific foods,” which indicates the precise food that caused the anaphylactic food reaction was not known.

During the period, the number of diagnosed anaphylactic reactions to peanuts grew 445%, while cases of tree nut and seed reactions increased 603%. Meanwhile, claims associated with anaphylactic reactions to “other specific foods” only grew 71%, suggesting physicians are better able to determine the cause of such reactions.

Peanut allergy chart
Peanuts were found to be the most commonly identified food causing anaphlactic reactions, according to analysis of insurance claims.
 

About a third of claims occurred in individuals over the age of 18, countering a common belief that severe food allergies are exclusively a childhood condition. Twenty-seven per cent of all claims with diagnoses of a history of food allergy were for patients between the ages 0-3. Preschool age children (4-5 years old) accounted for 8%, and those 6 to 18 years old comprised the remaining 31%.

“Food allergies are commonly thought of as a childhood condition, but for some children, food allergies continue into adulthood, and adult-onset food allergy does occur,” the study noted.

Additionally, the analysis found the increase in claims with diagnoses of history of food allergy from 2007 to 2016 was greater in rural areas than in urban areas.

Allergy chart by age
About a third of allergy claims occurred in individuals over the age of 18.
 

“Despite evidence from other researchers that childhood food allergies are more prevalent in urban than rural areas, our data show that the increase in claim lines with diagnoses of a history of food allergy was greater in rural (110%) than urban (70%) areas,” the study said.

Future research from FAIR Health will examine other aspects related to food allergies, including gender, geographic distribution, treatments and costs.

“Food allergies are a growing national public health concern, and therefore it is fitting for FAIR Health to use its vast data repository to contribute to the body of knowledge on the subject,” said Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health. “We intend to continue to study food allergies and to release findings that can inform research and policy.”
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